Respiratory diseases

Respiratory diseases include all clinical pictures of the respiratory organs and airways. Doctors differentiate respiratory diseases according to their course over time, their cause, or the location of the damage. As a rule, respiratory diseases only affect certain parts of the airways – such as a cold, bronchitis, tonsillitis, or even pneumonia. Please read here about other respiratory disorders, how they are diagnosed, and how they are treated.

Doctors summarize all diseases that affect the upper and lower respiratory tract under Respiratory diseases. As a rule, it is inflammation of the nose and throat, the paranasal sinuses, the trachea, the bronchi, or the lung tissue.Doctors summarize all diseases that affect the upper and lower respiratory tract under Respiratory diseases. As a rule, it is inflammation of the nose and throat, the paranasal sinuses, the trachea, the bronchi, or the lung tissue.

Lung diseases
Lung diseases can be scary because they affect a large number of people. An estimated 37 million people in the United States have lung disease, and 25 percent of those are diagnosed with the most common form of lung disease, chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis involves inflammation of the airways that makes it hard to breathe. Breathing problems caused by bronchitis can be pretty problematic. People diagnosed with chronic bronchitis have a cough that produces mucus and makes it difficult for them to breathe. The cough may be mild and infrequent at first, but it can become chronic and persist for months or years. People may also experience wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. A chronic cough may also result in Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease.
What are the causes of lung diseases? How do they manifest themselves and how are lung diseases treated? You can find out all about it here!
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects the airways, the muscles that live inside the airways, and the lining of the lungs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 23 million Americans suffer from asthma—that is, 8-10 percent of the United States population.
Asthma affects millions of people worldwide. The most important facts about Asthma disease!

Respiratory diseases from A to Z

Acute and chronic respiratory diseases

Doctors divide respiratory diseases into acute and chronic respiratory infections according to their course over time.
Acute respiratory diseases include simple coldssnifflesbronchitis, or throat or tonsillitis. Bacteria or viruses usually cause these diseases. In many cases, they are mild and usually heal within one to two weeks.
Acute bronchitis is an illness caused by an infection of the bronchial tubes or bronchi. The disease causes an increase in mucous secretions in the pipes, which makes it difficult to breathe. The condition is caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or by the bacteria known as Streptococcus pneumonia.
Acute bronchitis is mostly caused by viruses. Persistent cough is typical. Read more about symptoms and course!

Laryngitis, Also called laryngeal inflammation, is an inflammation of the larynx, the part of the upper throat that houses the vocal cords. The effects of laryngitis can be mild to severe, depending on its severity, and can be acute or chronic. Chronic laryngitis affects younger people more often than older ones and can be caused by several health conditions, including smoking, allergies, or throat infections.

Read more about other causes, symptoms, and therapies here.

If acute respiratory diseases do not heal completely, they can become chronic. The recovery is usually extremely lengthy – sometimes, the condition even persists. Chronic respiratory diseases are often associated with tissue damage and permanent functional limitations.

Chronic bronchitis is long-term, a chronic lung disease that typically affects people over 50. People are living with chronic bronchitis experience recurring episodes of acute bronchitis, also known as a “smoker’s cough,” that may last for six months or longer. Acute bronchitis is a chest infection that usually affects both of your upper lungs and is inflammation of the bronchial tubes of your lung. Chronic bronchitis also involves inflammation of the bronchial tubes, but the damage is long-lasting and inhibits normal lung function. Read more about symptoms, therapy, and prognosis!

Obstructive and restrictive diseases

Doctors speak of obstructive airway diseases if there is a narrowing or even a blockage of the airways. This means the air can only be breathed in or out with difficulty because the airflow is disturbed. Such so-called ventilation disorders range from mild manifestations, such as snoring, to more severe clinical pictures such as sleep apnea (disturbed inhalation), asthma (disturbed exhalation), or the progressive lung disease COPD.

Suppose the occlusion persists over a more extended period. In that case, this can be accompanied by “overinflation” of the air sacs in the lungs ( pulmonary emphysema ), which makes a gas exchange in the lungs more difficult and causes lasting damage to the lung tissue. 

Pulmonary emphysema is a progressive lung disease that limits your breathing capacity. Usually, the air is fully filtered through your lungs, but emphysema causes damage to your lungs, making it hard to take a stand. The effects of emphysema also make it difficult for you to expel air from your lungs.

In pulmonary emphysema, the alveoli are damaged and breathing becomes difficult. Smoking is often to blame. Read everything you need to know about emphysema here.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that commonly causes people to snore loudly, stop breathing for short periods, and wake up frequently throughout the night. The condition affects about 18 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health, but it’s a condition that’s often misunderstood. Here’s how to tell if you might be suffering from sleep apnea—and what you can do about it.

Doctors refer to all those diseases associated with restricted lung elasticity or chest as restrictive airway diseases – this usually means that the total capacity – i.e., the total volume – of the lungs is significantly reduced.

Lung tissue changes that make air exchange in the alveoli more difficult can also occur in the case of restrictive airway diseases.

Lung cancer is one of the most common types of disease. It is estimated that as many as 195,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year, and more than 160,000 will die. Although most people seek treatment for lung cancer too late, survival rates are rising because of early detection.

Lung cancer (bronchial carcinoma) is one of the most common cancers. Learn all about symptoms, treatment and prognosis!
Physicians refer to a pathological accumulation of fluid between the lungs and chest as a pleural effusion. Read more about what causes a pleural effusion and how it is treated.

Diseases of the upper and lower respiratory tract

Doctors also differentiate respiratory diseases according to the location of the damage. They subdivide the human respiratory tract as follows:

Upper respiratory tract: This includes the nose and nasal passages, the paranasal sinuses, and the pharynx.

Lower respiratory tract: It includes the larynxtracheabronchi, as well as the lungs themselves.

A disease of the respiratory tract – especially the lower respiratory tract – can severely disrupt the vital exchange of gases in the alveoli. This ability to exchange gases in the air sacs ( alveoli ) is the process in the body that “charges” the blood with oxygen and removes carbon dioxide from the blood.

Inflammation of the respiratory tract is a common cause

Inflammation is the most common cause of respiratory disease. The reasons for this can be varied: 

Infections: Certain pathogens colonize parts of the respiratory tract, disrupting respiratory function. They are usually temporary depending on the severity of the usually acute respiratory disease. Examples include acute bronchitis, pneumococcal infection ( pneumonia ), and influenza ( flu ). Severe courses usually occur with whooping cough (pertussis), diphtheria, pseudocroup, or chronic tuberculosis.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a severe infection that is highly contagious. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports that whooping cough affects approximately 10 to 14 percent of children under the age of 5 in the United States each year and that 10 to 20 percent of unvaccinated children end up hospitalized yearly. Whooping cough is spread by coughing or sneezing, which expels the virus into the air. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, microscopic droplets containing the virus are discharged into the environment.

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a contagious bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. It triggers spasmodic coughing fits. Read more about whooping cough.

Diphtheria is a severe bacterial infection that occurs when the body’s immune system is compromised. Also known as whooping cough, the disease was so standard that vaccination was required to attend a school or join the military. Today, however, the condition is rare in the U.S., thanks to an effective vaccine and a highly sophisticated vaccination system. Still, the disease can occur in unvaccinated individuals, particularly infants and young children. (More information about whooping cough is available at the CDC website.)

Diphtheria primarily affects the upper respiratory tract. It can be life-threatening. Read more about symptoms and therapy for diphtheria here.

Lung tissue changes: Lung tissue can change as a result of inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia). After a (large-scale) pneumonia, part of the lung tissue is replaced by connective tissue ( pulmonary fibrosis ). In rare cases, pneumonia can also promote the formation of sacs in the bronchial branches ( bronchiectasis ). Bronchiectasis then disrupts the self-cleaning mechanisms of the lungs and, in turn, leads to recurring local infections. 

Deposits of certain inorganic compounds also cause lasting damage to the natural structure of the lungs ( pneumoconiosis ). This can be particular mineral or metallic fine dust particles – such as asbestosquartz dust, antimony, tin, or iron dust. The (long-term, regular) inhalation of cigarette smoke also strains the lungs and, if the smoking behavior continues to be strong, usually leads to various chronic diseases – such as the colloquial term “smoker’s cough” to chronic bronchitis and finally to irreversible COPD.

Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is a chronic disease that the name itself describes. The lungs are damaged, and the sufferer is given a poor prognosis. This disease causes inflammation that leads to scarring of the lungs, and this leads to breathing complications, including a decreased ability to oxygenate the blood. The symptoms include breathlessness, wheezing, chest pain, and weakness.

In pulmonary fibrosis, the amount of connective tissue in the lungs increases. Find out everything you need to know about symptoms and prognosis!

People who work in the mining industry are at a higher risk of developing pneumoconiosis, or coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, a lung disease caused by breathing in fine coal dust. This disease may cause shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, and coughing up blood, and is characterized by scarring in the lungs. According to the National Mining Association, approximately 1,000 miners die of pneumoconiosis every year.

Pneumoconiosis is caused by inhaling dust. It is deposited in the respiratory tract. The result is coughing and shortness of breath. Read all about it!

Sarcoidosis is a chronic lung disease that most often occurs in people who work in industries like construction, farming, and manufacturing. The condition is triggered by chronic infection with inflammatory cells called granulomas. The granulomas then become inflamed and turn into scar tissue. They may look like non-cancerous tumors, but they usually shrink independently.

Read more about the course and prognosis of sarcoidosis!

Contact with allergens: allergy-triggering substances can also cause inflammation of the respiratory tract if there is a corresponding hypersensitivity ( allergy ). Airborne pollen or house dust irritates the airways of those affected so that in some cases, allergic asthma or – for example, frequent inhalation of mold, bird feathers or wood dust – allergic alveolitis can develop. Other (chemical) irritants are fine dust, (near the ground) ozone, or various nitrogen oxides.

When dealing with allergies, you may feel like you’re living in a haze. Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is a common allergy brought on by pollen, dust, mold, or pets. Hay fever occurs when the body reacts to substances in the air, causing symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes. Left untreated can lead to more severe complications such as asthma or sinus infections.

Hay fever (pollen allergy) is a hypersensitivity of the immune system to proteins from certain plant pollen. Read more about hay fever.

Allergic rhinitis is a disorder that results in sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and other symptoms caused by allergies. Approximately 40 million Americans experience allergic rhinitis each year, ranging from mild to severe. Although the symptoms of allergic rhinitis can be treated, severe cases can be debilitating. People with allergic rhinitis can alleviate symptoms by taking medication, using nasal irrigation, and practicing other allergy management strategies. But some people may suffer for longer than they should if they don’t seek treatment.

Allergic rhinitis (allergic rhinitis) is an inflammation of the nasal mucosa caused by an allergy. Here you can find out more about the topic!

Genetic respiratory diseases: These are congenital diseases that are also assigned to the group of hereditary diseases. A prominent example is the metabolic disease mucoviscidosis (cystic fibrosis). Affected people produce respiratory secretions that are denser than healthy people. As a result, these secretions increasingly settle in the bronchi and cannot be excreted (“coughed up”) by the body. This dramatically increases the risk of pneumonia and other infections.

Cystic fibrosis, also known as CF, is a genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. Cystic fibrosis can cause problems with your digestive system, leading to frequent infections, being born with thick or sticky mucus that traps bacteria, and difficulty absorbing nutrients. But there are other complications too. Cystic fibrosis causes the body to make excess mucus and clogs the lungs, causing difficulty breathing. The mucus buildup also blocks sweat ducts and leads to colds, flu, and other problems. The mucus also makes it harder for the lungs to take in any oxygen, resulting in feelings of fatigue. Cystic fibrosis also causes thick, sticky sweat, called sweat steatorrhea.

Read more about the Cystic fibrosis (CF)!

Other causes of respiratory disorders

In addition to inflammatory diseases of the respiratory tract, there are other causes of respiratory diseases. For example, neurological disorders affect the respiratory center in the brain. Doctors then speak of neuromuscular ventilation disorders. They can occur as a side effect of Guillain-Barré syndrome or as a result of myasthenia gravis

However, a (temporary) malfunction of the respiratory center can also be due to a lack of minerals – for example, a permanently lowered phosphate level ( hypophosphatemia ) or a persistent magnesium deficiency.

Myasthenia gravis, also known as MG, is a neuromuscular disease that weakens your muscles. MG causes weakness and fatigability that can be severe enough to prevent you from moving your arms or legs. Symptoms often begin in the hands, head, eyelids, or feet. The disease affects women more than men and usually develops between the ages of 30 and 50. Myasthenia gravis can affect your breathing and heart. The condition is treatable, and most people with MG can lead everyday, healthy lives.

Myasthenia gravis is a nerve disease that causes severe skeletal muscle weakness. Read everything you need to know here!

A severe form of muscle weakness, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), is a serious condition. GBS causes weakness, numbness, or tingling in the arms or legs and can cause trouble breathing. The disease can strike suddenly and can be accompanied by fever and headaches. If GBS is not treated quickly, it can lead to permanent nerve damage.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is an inflammatory disease of the nerves. It is accompanied by paralysis and sensory disturbances. Read more about symptoms, causes and Treatment.

Symptoms of Respiratory diseases

Respiratory diseases can manifest themselves through a variety of symptoms. The following complaints often occur:

Coughing up to 480 kilometers per hour removes mucus, dust, or foreign bodies from the respiratory tract. Read everything you need to know about the causes and treatment of cough.

Sore throats can be painful and annoying. They can make it difficult to talk, eat, and drink and make you miserable. Fortunately, most sore throats clear up within a few days or weeks. But sometimes, a sore throat can stick around for a lot longer; for many, the cause is a virus. If you have a sore throat, or if you’ve recently gotten sick, then you may be wondering what you can do to make it better.

An infection usually causes a sore throat. Read more about the causes and treatment of sore throats here!

Many a doctor’s office or a trip to the pharmacy has been interrupted by a painful “hmm” or “huh” sound, or maybe an uncomfortable throat clearing. Yes, that’s the dreaded “h” word, affecting more people than you think. The cause of hoarseness isn’t necessarily something most people want to think about, but it can be treated.

Colds or voice strain are often responsible for hoarseness, but sometimes also, smoking and throat cancer is what you should know about hoarseness.

Diagnosis of Respiratory diseases

If the respiratory disease is suspected, an ENT doctor or a pneumologist is usually the first point of contact. Your doctor will inquire about the time when the symptoms began, the intensity and frequency of your symptoms, and clarify any existing illnesses.

A physical examination follows this medical history. Doctors often listen to your airways with a stethoscope ( auscultation ). This makes it possible to determine characteristic noises when breathing in and out, which provides your doctor with important information about the disease, such as rattling noises or deep humming. Your doctor may also tap ( percussion ) and feel ( palpation ) your chest ( thorax ).

It is also possible for your doctor to take a swab from your nose and throat to have this sample examined in the laboratory. If necessary, your doctor will also take a blood sample.

Doctors use so-called imaging methods for more sophisticated diagnostics. For example, they take an X-ray or perform computed tomography (CT) – alternatively, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

In addition, they check the functionality and performance of your lungs, for example, with spirometry. As a patient, you breathe in and out vigorously through your mouth with your nose closed. Doctors measure the speed of breathing and the volume of air moved by your breath. Similar to spirometry, so-called spiroergometry can be used to determine your lung function under physical stress. Other methods are peak flow measurement or pulse oximetry.

If you’ve ever had a lung function test at a doctor’s office, your doctor may have used a Spirometer to determine the volume of air your lungs can hold. Spirometry is a test used to measure the function of the respiratory system, or how well the lungs and breathing muscles work. This measurement is done through a test called spirometry, which checks how well your lungs and breathing muscles work with a set of maneuvers called the vitals. During the vitals, your doctor might ask you to take a deep breath in, hold your breath, and exhale. This test is non-invasive and painless. Spirometry can be performed in a doctor’s or outpatient medical office.
Spirometry is a routine test of lung function. Read all about the reasons and procedure of the investigation

A colonoscopy is a test that checks the lining of your colon for polyps, which can turn into cancerous tumors if not removed. But a bronchoscopy is a test that checks the lining of your bronchi (small airways) for signs of lung disease or cancer. Both studies look in the same places, and both can be performed on an outpatient basis. But, there’s one big difference: a colonoscopy is a test performed under general anesthesia. At the same time, bronchoscopy is a test done under local anesthesia (one shot in your upper thigh).

A rigid or flexible probe is inserted into the trachea and bronchi in bronchoscopy. Read how the investigation works here!

Treatment of Respiratory diseases

The individual therapy of respiratory diseases depends on the present illness. Treatment options cover a broad spectrum ranging from administering particular medication and training in specific breathing techniques to artificial respiration in intensive care medicine.

Antibiotics for bacterial infections

Diseases that are a result of bacterial infections can be treated with antibioticsDoctors usually prescribe penicillin or related drugs for pneumonia caused by pneumococcal infection. Pneumonia caused by other strains of bacteria – such as chlamydia, mycoplasma, or legionella – can be treated with macrolide antibiotics such as erythromycin. The bacterium Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) – as another example – can be successfully treated with ampicillin or amoxicillin.

Antivirals against viral infections

On the other hand, antibiotics do not affect viral respiratory diseases. In such cases, doctors have so-called antivirals available for severe infections. They prevent viruses from multiplying in the body.

Examples include amantadineaciclovir, lopinavir, or oseltamivir. However, physicians rarely use these drugs. The effectiveness of antivirals is often limited – and their administration is associated with side effects.

The lines between viruses and bacteria are becoming more and more blurred. The cold you catch from a co-worker may as well be the flu, and the flu itself may be a virus or bacteria. (Remember when “flu” and “cold” were two different things?) It’s all the rage these days to call everything a virus, but how do you tell? And more importantly, how do you treat it?

Antivirals are drugs used to treat viral infections. You can find out how they work and what side effects are possible here!

Other active ingredients in respiratory diseases

If a large number of dense mucus forms during the respiratory disease, treatment with expectorant or expectorant drugs – so-called secretolytic (e.g., acetylcysteinebromhexineambroxolguaifenesin ) – can be helpful too. 

Doctors may prescribe “cough suppressants” —called antitussives for an extreme, dry cough. These include the active ingredients codeine or dextromethorphan

Respiratory therapy and ventilation

Patients with existing asthma or COPD can also benefit from respiratory therapy . It includes exercises and techniques that make breathing easier and promote conscious body awareness. 

If patients’ oxygen saturation drops due to respiratory disease, their breathing can be supported. Doctors first use oxygen, which is supplied by means of a so-called nasal cannula, nasal mask, or nasal probe. This non-invasive procedure aims to enrich the patient’s breathing air with pure oxygen.

The CPAP method (continuous positive airway pressure) is a particular case. For example, it is used in treating sleep apnea syndrome. A sealed breathing mask supports the breathing of affected patients by always ensuring a slightly increased air pressure in the airways – both when breathing in and when breathing out. This is to provide that the airways do not “close up, especially when exhaling.”


If patients can no longer breathe independently in severe cases, doctors must use intubation and artificial respiration ( invasive ventilation ). The patient is artificially ventilated via a tube in the trachea. This tube keeps the airways open, thus ensuring the supply of oxygen in emergencies.

Sleep apnea affects millions of people, causing you to stop breathing hundreds of times a night. Luckily, we have a solution: continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. CPAP is a machine that delivers air pressure to keep your airway open while you sleep, which helps you breathe easier and sleep better. While CPAP machines used to be clunky and uncomfortable, today’s units are smaller, lighter, and easier to use. And CPAP machines today aren’t only for treating sleep apnea—they can also be used to treat other disorders, like snoring. Read all about it!

Recent studies have shown that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) increases the effectiveness of cancer treatments, including radiation. HBOT uses an enriched mixture of oxygen administered in a pressurized chamber. The enriched oxygen can reach the bloodstream and tissues at an increased level than what can be administered via normal breathing.

In hyperbaric oxygen therapy, pure oxygen is breathed under increased ambient pressure. Read more about the reasons and process of the method!

How can I actively prevent respiratory diseases?

A large proportion of respiratory diseases caused by infections occur seasonally. The “ cold season ” often sets in with the cold and wet season. During this time, the immune system can be slightly weakened. In addition, most people than stay in closed rooms. Pathogens find ideal conditions there to spread.

The most effective way to prevent severe respiratory diseases caused by infections is to vaccinate against the respective pathogen. 

Wearing an FFP2 mask is also considered adequate protection against infectious diseases. FFP2 covers significantly reduce the risk of the droplet or aerosol infection. However, it remains to be seen whether FFP2 masks will be socially accepted in public spaces even after the corona pandemic.

Measles, flu or hepatitis: which vaccinations are important? When do I need to refresh them? What vaccinations do children and pregnant women need?

Pay attention to hygiene

In addition, you should ensure adequate hygiene. Touching doorknobs or handles in the subway, department stores, or at work can promote transmission through so-called smear infection.

Therefore, keep your hands away from your face and wash your hands after going out in public places.

Exercise and a healthy diet strengthen the immune system

To strengthen the immune system, you should get enough exercise and do sports regularly. Consciously not smoking also protects your lung tissue and enables your lungs to defend themselves against pathogens better.

In addition, you should eat a balanced diet. This means you should ensure a varied diet rich in vitamins that keeps your body efficient and healthy.

Quitting smoking is one of the hardest things a person can do, but it can be done. Natural ways to help you stop, such as chewing tobacco alternatives and hypnosis, but several medications can also assist with the quitting process. Start by understanding nicotine addiction and choosing the best option that works for you.
Nicotine patches, behavioral therapy, anti-smoking pills – there are many ways to stop smoking.

Scientific standards:

This text corresponds to the requirements of specialist medical literature, medical guidelines, and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.